Universal Cancer Signalling Pathway: This is an interesting new twist on cancer signalling that may make scientists rethink how to tackle the disease. It is thought that there is no single cure for cancer as the hetergenous disease may arise from mutations in a number of different pathways. In this report, however, researchers demonstrate that many of the cancers converge on HIF-2a, part of the oxygen-sensing system that is required for tumours to grow. By inhibiting HIF-2a, they could attenuate the growth of a diverse number of aggressive cancers including glioblastomas, colorectal tumours, and non-small cell lung carcinomas. This universal cancer axis converging on HIF-2a could turn out to be a silver-bullet for cancer therapy. Dr. Stephen Lee at the University of Ottawa led the team and describes the research in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
SKP’ing Stem Cells: A special type of cell called SKPs (skin-derived precursors) may be the elusive adult dermal stem cell involved in regenerating skin, wound-healing, and keeping hair healthy and growing. In the study, researchers characterized the specialized population of cells and determined that SKPs can self-renew, maintain their ability to transform into other cells types, and regenerate hair follicles or other dermal cell types when grafted. These properties are suggestive that SKPs are indeed THE dermal stem cells and may have important future applications such as in hair restoration and wound-healing. Dr. Jeffrey Biernaskie completed the research in the lab of Dr. Freda Miller at Sickkids Hospital and recently started his own group at the University of Calgary. The report appears in this latest edition of Cell Stem Cell.
Comparative Genomics Links Autism and Schizophrenia: A new study comparing the genomes of autistic patients and schizophrenic patients proved the connection between the two disorders that were previously thought to share behavioural similarities. Both illnesses are associated with anomalies in the same region of the genome but differ substantially in the nature of the genetic changes. Part of the genomic region is missing in autistic patients whereas extra copies of the genome are present in schizophrenic patients. The affected genes appear to control head size and brain growth with overdevelopment of the brain in autistic patients and underdevelopment in schizophrenics. By knowing that the two disorders are genetically linked, research on one disorder immediately provides clues for the other and will aid in advancing treatment options for both. The study was conducted by Dr. Bernard Crespi’s group at Simon Fraser University and is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Signalling Links in Neurological Disorders: Perturbations in either Dopamine or BDNF (brain-derived nerutrophic factor) pathways are implicated in neurological disorders. Researchers have now defined the molecular relationship linking the two pathways to similar disorders. The calcium signalling cascade is the key intermediate between dopamine receptor activation and BDNF production leading to neuronal growth. With this new understanding of the pathways associated with schizophrenia, depression, and drug addiction, additional molecular targets are available for potential therapeutic intervention. The study was led by Dr. Susan George at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Toronto) and is reported in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Small Molecule Pathway Database: SMPDB (www.smpdb.ca) is an interactive, visual database containing more than 350 small-molecule pathways found in humans. It is designed to support drug discovery research and pathway elucidation by employing clinical metabolomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and systems biology information. The pathways describe relevant organs, organelles, subcellular compartments, protein cofactors, protein locations, metabolite locations, chemical structures and protein quaternary structures. SMPBP is a very useful tool that was put together by Dr. David Wishart’s group at the University of Alberta and is described in detail in Nucleic Acids Research.